Great Rock Albums of 1985: Pete Townshend-White City: A Novel


Here’s the number one reason why you should never let one song, especially if it’s the single played on the radio, influence your decision whether to buy or not to buy an album. If I had used the single “Face the Face,” from The Who’s Pete Townshend influence my decision to buy his 1985 solo album, “White City: A Novel,” then I would not have bought it.

On the single, Pete goes with what was then considered a more 1980s sound. It is a departure from the music he made with his famous band. He even has his daughter Emma, who was 15 at the time, sing on it. She does it in a way that some people have claimed she was rapping. While that’s a matter of opinion, the reaction from many hard core Who fans and heavy rockers was that Pete Townshend had abandoned his roots and  what was the typical accusation flung in the 80s, had sold out. One friend of mine was convinced that Pete made the album to support his cocaine habit. Pete on coke? I was thought that was an Aerosmith thing.

Admittedly, I was never impressed with “Face to Face.” While I am more open to the song these days, I can say that it is not indicative of the rest of the album. From the opener, “Give Blood,” which is my favourite track, to the end, one can hear his Who influences. Maybe not the 1960s where he went around smashing guitars and amps but his more 70s creativity comes through here. “Second Hand Love” is the perfect example. I like the piano in the background while Pete screams “I don’t want your second hand love,” before some cool little guitar tricks arrive in the middle to help take the song home. Then again, “Crashing by Design” does have a 60s Who guitar intro that reminds you that Pete hasn’t forgotten where he came from. In fact, this track is the closest he comes to that 60s hard rock sound.

If that didn’t convince you that he wasn’t a sell out, then the final two tracks certainly will. “White City Fighting” is a hard rocker which underlies the concept of that “White City: A Novel” is about. In his hard rocking way, Pete tells of his life in the 1960s in the area of London displayed in the title. He says it was a dismal place of racial and cultural conflict and little hope for the youth. Putting it in a hard rock context releases the anger behind the lyrics. Plus, Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd plays guitar on the track which adds a little more to it. The closer, “Come to Mama,” seems to be an combination of several Who songs coming together to end the album in a very cool way. Believe me, once the album finishes, you have no doubt that Pete has not sold out and gone top 40.

Track Listing:

1. Give Blood

2. Brilliant Blues

3. Face the Face

4. Hiding Out

5. Second Hand Love

6. Crashing by Design

7. I Am Secure

8. White City Fighting

9. Come to Mama


Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend- vocals, guitar

Steve Barnacle- bass

Mark Brzezicki- drums

John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick- keyboards

Additional Musicians:

Clem Burke, Simon Phillips- drums

Tony Butler, Phil Chen, Pino Palladino, Chucho Merchan- bass

Dave Gilmour- guitar, (tracks 1 & 8)

Peter Hope Evans- harmonica

Simon Clarke, Roddy Lorimer, Tim Sanders, Peter Thoms- kick horns

Ewan Stewart- spoken word

Emma Townshend, Jackie Chellanor, Mae McKennna, Lorrenza Johnson- backing vocals


I hope anyone reading this who thought that “White City: A Novel” was Pete Townshend selling out and making a top 40 record to support his coke habit will read this and go back and listen to the entire album. This album proves that Pete hasn’t forgotten where he has come from. With this album, he just does so in a less angry way.

Next post: Mr Mister- Welcome to the Real World

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8 Responses to “Great Rock Albums of 1985: Pete Townshend-White City: A Novel”

  1. Have never forayed into “solo Pete” however I grew up on The Who (thanks dad). Is his solo stuff as punchy?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Some really good players on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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